Council watchdog raises concerns

Council leader Rhondda Geekie.
Council leader Rhondda Geekie.

Concerns have been raised by a public spending watchdog over the financial control of East Dunbartonshire Council,

the Herald can reveal.

A report by the Accounts Commission says there is a risk services could not be maintained without improvements in the way the council is run.

However, the Commission recognised that the authority currently delivered good services.

The council needs to save £22.3million – 10 per cent of its budget – by 2017/18.

On top of that, council reserves are low and are projected to fall further, the report said.

The Accounts Commission is the public spending watchdog for local government in Scotland.

The Commision recognised the council’s “commitment to improvement”, but added it was concerned about the pace of those improvements.

Deficiencies highlighted in the report included financial control and management of resources. It said new scrutiny arrangements are ineffective and that councillors should be able to hold officers to account.

Commission chairman, Douglas Sinclair, said: “There is a gap between the council’s ambition and seeing evidence of that on the ground.

“This is what East Dunbartonshire needs to address if it is to continue to deliver good quality services in the future.”

The Commission has asked the controller of audit for an update on the council’s progress by the end of 2016.

Council leader Rhondda Geekie said the findings of the Accounts Commission would be discussed at a full council meeting on June 25.

She said: “In advance I would highlight that the East Dunbartonshire Council Targeted Best Value Report concludes: “East Dunbartonshire Council delivers good quality services and has delivered efficiencies through its approach to transformation and revised service delivery.

“The council is consistently one of the highest performing education authorities in Scotland and the most improved over the past decade.

“The council has made good progress in improving its procurement function –has had the highest level of procurement improvement in Scotland for each of the last two years –following successful action to address previous poor performance.”

The council leader said new scrutiny arrangements looked sound, but were not yet working effectively, and in most areas the council has an “appropriate level” of financial controls.

She said: “We believe the best approach to achieving the financial savings required is to continue with our transformational programme and organisational planning approach.

“We have delivered savings of £40million over the last eight years and our primary objective is to find additional savings of £23million over the next three years but to still protect services and jobs.”

The council leader continued: “Our transformational approach, we believe, is the only way to achieve the unprecedented further savings whilst maintaining maximum service delivery to our residents. Whilst we acknowledge this approach is not without risk, we intend to fully manage that risk going forward.”